WBENC Women in Business 2010: active present, ambitious future
Certified WBEs hit a record: now up to 10,147
"Roadmap to 2020" lays out a plan to boost women's businesses and create 6 million new jobs in a decade
By Kate Colborn
Editor in Chief
The 2010 national Women in Business conference and business fair of the Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC, www.wbenc.org) drew more than 3,200 women's business enterprises (WBEs) and their corporate supporters to Baltimore this past June.
Through its fourteen regional partner organizations, WBENC certifies the ownership and management of WBEs. Its certification is widely accepted by corporate supplier diversity managers.
The conference is WBENC's signature event, anchored by a day-long business opportunity fair (see "Supplier Diversity on the Road" in this issue). The business fair is important, of course, but there's a lot more to the conference. Seminars, plenary sessions, exciting and informative speakers round out the three-day event. At breakfasts and luncheons, WBENC president Linda Denny, regional partners, WBEs, corporate supporters and invited speakers informed and entertained attendees on a variety of subjects.
Networking is constant: at meals, in the corridors and across the business fair floor. In fact, Diversity/Careers met a number of women who were recently interviewed in the magazine, and made contact with many potential future interviewees.
This year's conference enjoyed international representation. The new executive director of WEConnect Canada was there, and so was a delegation of WBEs from India.
News from WBENC
WBENC hit a major milestone this year. At the Wednesday breakfast, Denny announced that there are now 10,147 certified WBEs, the first year the number has topped 10,000. The average WBENC-certified WBE has revenues of $10 million, Denny notes.
Each year WBENC's Dorothy B. Brothers scholarship fund selects WBEs to attend the Tuck-WBENC Executive Program at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business, or one of a range of other programs. Denny reports that the stipend for the program will be raised from $4,500 to $11,000, to better reflect the actual cost to the business owner of attending the sessions. Twenty-one scholarships are available for 2011; interested WBEs can contact WBENC or a regional partner organization for application details.
Corporate and WBE support
Sponsors of the event and its various elements included both large corporations and WBEs. Companies in sponsorship roles get extra visibility: for WBEs, it's a valuable way to make contacts with potential customers, and it helps the big corporations find likely new suppliers.
Sponsors of the business fair breakfast included Avis Budget, Chrysler, General Motors, Ford, and WBE Smead Manufacturing, a large office products company.
Accenture, Chevron and Pitney Bowes along with WBEs Arbill and MDI Group, sponsored the ribbon-cutting and the fair.
The luncheon, a welcome break from the intense business-fair activity, was sponsored by ExxonMobil, Manpower, Pfizer, and WBEs ASAP and Superior Staff Resources.
Kraft Foods and Target sponsored the post-event block party, joined by WBEs Kelly Mitchell Group, Meadows Office Furniture and Teltech Communications.
Many large corporations require their large suppliers and contractors to meet second-tier spending goals: to spend a target percentage of their own procurement dollars with diverse suppliers. Several companies invited representatives of their large majority-owned suppliers to share their booths and make contact with WBEs. Others invited their "star" WBE suppliers to join them, and arranged introductions to other potential clients for them.
Roadmap to 2020
An ambitious new initiative, several years in the making, was introduced at the conference. WBENC, the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) and Quantum Leaps, a nonprofit "global accelerator" for women's entrepreneurship, announced "The Roadmap to 2020 – Fueling the Growth of Women's Enterprise Development."
This new plan aims to "change the course of the economy with the power of women's businesses," declares Karen Maples, president of business consulting firm Myutiq and a contributor to the initiative's initial report.
Findings from the report
Women's businesses have unrealized growth potential, the report states. Only 2 to 3 percent of women-owned firms generate $1 million or more in revenues, compared with 6 percent of male-owned businesses. Women's businesses are also undercapitalized: Babson College reports that women, on average, start their ventures with eight times less funding than do men.
The solution, the report suggests, is "unleashing the power of women's businesses." A business climate in which women-owned businesses received equal funding and support could generate a minimum of 6 million high-paying jobs in the next decade, the report claims, with a positive effect on the businesses, their employees, and the competitiveness of the U.S. economy.
The report's boldest recommendations include entrepreneurial education for girls, starting as young as five and moving up through the educational spectrum, with an emphasis on the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and math. Women are naturally inventive, the report's authors state, and an early emphasis on STEM subjects will prepare girls and young women to move into emerging areas like green technology.
Increasing access to both capital and markets is another essential step, the report continues. Convincing government agencies to accept third-party certifications like WBENC's would make a big difference.
The report also recommends expanding the role of the Small Business Administration's Office of Women's Business Ownership beyond its current role of overseeing women's business centers.
The authors of the report represent a collaboration of women's business and advocacy groups: NAWBO, Quantum Leaps, WBENC, WEConnect International, Womenable, Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP) and the Women Presidents' Organization (WPO). Project coordinator is Virginia Littlejohn, CEO of Quantum Leaps. The editorial board includes representatives from Womenable, the Center for Women's Business Research, Enterprising Women magazine and more.
Global corporate sponsor of the report and project is IBM. Marilyn Johnson, VP of market development for IBM, was involved in the creation of the report, and will be an active participant as the project moves forward.
Speaking with Diversity/Careers' Kate Colborn, Johnson noted that "Nothing powers businesses more than innovative ideas and technology. By sponsoring Quantum Leaps' Roadmap to 2020 IBM is strategically implementing another initiative to make this world a smarter planet. This was a thoughtful decision that will impact women, jobs and business productivity worldwide, for years to come."
The report, of course, is only the beginning of a potential ten-year effort. Its creators plan a strategic "think tank" for this fall to solidify projects and next steps. There's also the possibility of involvement in the Woman's World Economic Forum in Deauville, France this September, and in the 2011 World Economic Forum.
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